Stocked up on sleep, food and South African spirit, morale was high for Team Vestas Wind leaving Cape Town, the tavern of the seas, on 19th November 2014.
The Team was soon contemplating the highs and lows of the Indian Ocean after an initial gnarly start to Leg 2. It was all to play for though as the Race’s first cyclone warning came into place and the seven boats gained pace, racing north towards Abu Dhabi.
Barely 10 days into the second leg, skipper Chris Nicholson and his crew were gaining on the leading pack and preparing for the night ahead when tragedy struck and our carbon fibre Volvo Ocean 65 ran aground on the Cargados Carajos shoal, a remote atoll some 400km north of Mauritius.
“I remember the call, how we feared initially for our colleagues but quickly put our crisis plan into action,” said CEO of Team Vestas Wind, Mirella Vitale. “Our priority was the crew’s safety. The shore and commercial teams worked through the night, doing everything we could to support our team, talk to our key stakeholders, and inform our fans and the press. It was certainly a night none of us would like to live again.”
The onshore contingent of Team Vestas Wind followed the crew’s every step as they maintained contact with Team Alvimedica and Race Control in Alicante. It was soon evident that our nine-man team would be forced to abandon ship, so a close collaboration began with colleagues on shore as each crewmember was transferred to safety. A sigh of relief was breathed as the crew received a warm welcome from the local coastguard and was transferred to the island. Everyone could briefly close their eyes and rest.
“The experience was so fast-moving, it was surreal. At Vestas, we pride ourselves on our safety and we had prepared ourselves to expect the unexpected, but nothing like this. The collaboration we had with Race control, Team Alvimedica and the local authorities was impressive to say the least. What happened next though was up to us,” recalls Mirella Vitale.
Over the following days, the Team remained on the atoll where they proceeded to clean up the reef, removing environmentally dangerous components and securing the damaged vessel. Several weeks later, a new plan was set in motion; the blue boat was safely removed from its tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean and shipped to Malaysia en route to Italy, whilst Vestas announced that we would be returning to the race in Lisbon in time for Leg 8.
Time seemed to be against Team Vestas Wind – we would have barely four months between arriving at Persico in the Italian Alps and leaving for Lisbon with a rebuilt boat. Almost everyone thought it an impossible task, but with Sponsor, Team, boat builders and Race officials on board working day and night behind the scenes, it simply had to be done – a tragic tale of dreams dashed would be turned around to have a remarkable ending.
Vestas and Team Vestas Wind stood tall in the face of adversity and overcame one of the biggest setbacks in modern sporting history by returning to the Race in Lisbon and crossing the finish line in Gothenburg. One year on from the accident, we can reflect on our achievements and say we worked hard, stuck to our principles and kept our mind on the end goal. It meant the world to us and we made it happen.
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